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Mbeki: Many good African leaders

Rapule Tabane

Thabo Mbeki has indirectly criticised the Mo Ebrahim Foundation's decision not to award its governance prize to a deserving African leader.

Former president Thabo Mbeki has indirectly criticised the Mo Ebrahim Foundation’s decision, for the second year in a row, not to award its governance prize to a deserving African leader, insisting he is convinced that there are enough capable leaders on the continent.

During an interview at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, this week, Mbeki said: “I know there are many leaders on the continent who are committed to peace in the continent, democracy in the continent and changing things for the better.”

The foundation released its African good governance rankings two weeks ago, but decided there were no worthy candidates for its annual $5-million award. Mbeki had been mentioned as a possible beneficiary but is understood to have agreed with Ebrahim, an IT billionaire, before the award was launched, that he would not benefit from it. He told the M&G he was initially involved in drawing up its selection criteria but did not see the final version.

Promoting good governance in Africa
Mbeki would not be drawn on South Africa’s second stint in the United Nations Security Council, other than to say it was a demanding, time-consuming post that required commitment and 24-hour availability. But he added that if South Africa had been a Security Council member when the United States-led war in Iraq was launched, the country would have opposed it. South Africa had sent its own inspectors to Iraq, who had found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

“The Security Council cannot go around asking for respect for international law when, itself, it does not respect the United Nations charter,” he said.

Mbeki spoke to the Mail & Guardian a day after launching the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, which is intended to promote good governance in Africa. The launch was attended by the likes of former Ghanaian president John Agyekum Kufuor, Mamphela Ramphele, and former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano. The foundation will work with Unisa, which will launch courses promoting its values next year.

Mbeki said the idea of the foundation had been conceived years ago by African leaders, who wanted to know what he would do after he left office. He said they had agreed that policy positions for the development and betterment of the continent had long existed, but that what was lacking was implementation.

“We felt that our weakness is people—we don’t have enough people to implement this programme of the African renewal. The foundation would, therefore, assist in developing people to implement policies,” he said.

‘Even my wife calls me a visitor when I’m here’
Questioned about the performance of his successor, President Jacob Zuma, he refused to comment, saying that he wanted to give Zuma space to work without interfering.

Asked whether he kept in touch with Zuma and whether the latter’s government was continuing the work he had started, Mbeki replied: “My own view is that when heads of government leave their post they should give enough space to people who succeed them. It would be wrong for any president to intervene. It is international practice.”

The former president deftly avoided all questions relating to the ANC and the current government, saying he had no time to observe what was currently happening. He confirmed that he was still an ANC member but spent most of his time abroad.

The African Union has appointed Mbeki as its facilitator in Sudan, where he says he spends two-thirds of his time. Mbeki, who continually referred to himself as “we”, said: “We spend at least three weeks there and about five days here. Even my wife calls me a visitor when I’m here.”

He is preparing for a referendum in Sudan in January. He claimed to be so preoccupied with Sudan that he had been unable to track Zuma’s follow-up work in implementing the global peace agreement in Zimbabwe that he brokered.


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